US looks to make 911 video-ready

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US looks to make 911 video-ready

Better information for first-responders.

With 70 per cent of the 273 million 911 emergency calls each year made using a mobile phone, the US communications regulator has aired a proposal to allow the service to handle video, text and pictures.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julian Genachowski said it was time to bring the 911 system into the "digital age".

"Even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most 9-1-1 callers, and we primarily use our phones to text, right now, you can't text 9-1-1," he said.

The rationale for the proposed upgrade would be to provide better quality information to emergency services staff in real-time.

The problem for US 911 operators was that many lacked access to broadband, making it near impossible to receive data.

At present Australia's emergency number, 000, operated by Telstra, also lacked such capabilities. However Deaf Australia in 2009 called for video capabilities to be included in emergency services as part of the move towards the National Broadband Network.

Save lives

The FCC cited the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre as an example where text messages to emergency services could have saved lives.

Students, who would have risked their lives by making calls, had sent texts to 911 but they were never received, according to the regulator.

"If these messages had gone through, first responders may have arrived on the scene faster with firsthand intelligence about the life-threatening situation that was unfolding," the FCC said..

Video and photo footage could also help "first responders" with real-time information that may cut the response time, while phones could be used to report crime as it was happening, the FCC said.

The FCC will also air a proposal to make some devices capable of making emergency calls, such as traffic lights, security cameras, alarms, personal medical devices and automobile systems.

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